Estimated to fetch £60,000-80,000 at Sotheby’s New York on March 20, it sold after a seven-minute bidding battle for $1.7m (£1.3m) – more than 17,000 times its original purchase price.
The vendor had brought the piece to an Antiques Roadshow appraisal event in St Louis, where she said she had purchased the work at a garage sale around 20 years before for under $100. Sotheby’s said that the item was acquired from the estate of Trezevant Branam Winfrey (1912-1999) in Kirkwood, Missouri, in 1999.
The 6½in (16cm) bronze of Guanyin, dated to the end of the Tang era (618-90) or the Five Dynasties period (907- 960), is similar to another in the Metropolitan Museum.
Sotheby’s auction of Important Chinese Art was topped by a complete set of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment penned by the Qianlong emperor himself.
Bound in two volumes in gilt brocade, the second album closes with an inscription translating to ‘Qianlong commenced writing on the 19th day of the first month of the bingyin year  and concluded on the 15th day of the second month’. With a long collecting history in the West (it was acquired by newspaper proprietor Henry Yates Thompson in 1882 from Bernard Quaritch), it made five times its mid-estimate at $2.2m (£1.7m).
The sale also included two imperial quality 6in (15cm) 18th century jade brush pots consigned from The Art Institute of Chicago, where they had been since a gift in 1900. The more desirable of the two was in evenly toned white jade and carved with a diorama of a court procession. Estimated at $800,000-$1.2m, it took $1.7m (£1.3m). The other, in less commercial spinach jade, worked with an idyllic scene of scholars at leisure in a garden setting, took $380,000 (£290,000).
Bonhams’ March 18 sale of Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art was led by a pair of 3¾in (9.5cm) Yongzheng (1723-35) ‘quail’ bowls, which took $820,000 (£630,000).
Two aspects make them particularly rare: the design incorporating chrysanthemums (rather than prunus and nandina) that symbolises autumn; and in the continuous decoration spilling over the rim into the interior, in a technique known as guoqiangzhi. They came for sale by descent from the heiress Virginia Hobart (1876-1958).
Christie’s sale on March 22 was topped by an exceptional ‘number three’ Jun ware jardiniere from the Yuan or early Ming dynasty. Distinctive for a ‘mallow’ shape and remarkable lavender-blue glaze shading to brilliant purple colour, it was appearing at auction for the fourth time in a generation. It had previously sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1996, at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 when part of the Dexingshuwu collection ($469,000 including premium) and most recently in 2013 (HK$16.8m including premium).
Underlining the price inflation still evident in aspects of the Chinese works of art market, it sold at a premium-inclusive $3,015,000.
Jun wares such as this, used to grow small trees and flowering plants, have a numeral inscribed in Chinese script on the base likely to indicate the vessel’s size and facilitate pairing with a drainage basin of correct size. The inscribed numbers range from one to ten (with one designating the largest). Once deemed earlier, many scholars favour a 14th or 15th century date for these wares although, until kiln sites are found and excavated, their precise origins remains enigmatic.
Leading the sale at Heritage New York on March 19-20 was a quartet of ink and colour on paper works by the celebrated painter, calligrapher and seal artist Wu Changshuo (1844-1927).
Peony, Bottle Gourds, Loquats and Dingzi, each signed and dated for 1917, and inscribed with appropriate seasonal poems, were one of 23 lots in the sale from the Chenn family collection of Chinese paintings and calligraphy. They had been given by the artist to Chen Guoxiang (1879-1919), a notable figure in Chinese politics in the late Qing period, whose collection later relocated along with subsequent generations of the family to Taiwan in 1949, and then the US. Estimated at $300,000-$500,000, they sold at $399,000.
An email inquiry from private owners in New England led to the consignment to the Skinner sale in Boston on March 22 of a 22in (55cm) cloisonne charger. It had been brought back by a family member from China in the early 20th century. With decorative devices including dragons, ruyi clouds, and the Eight Buddhist Treasures, it bore a six-character Wanli (1572-1620) mark although the estimate of just $1000-1500 suggested the auctioneers were unconvinced of a late Ming date. In fact multiple online bidders competed with the telephones to push the lot to $315,000.